Silly Sea Birds
...And Losing My Marbles
We have a mixed relationship with seagulls. Some rhapsodize how "...no dreams may possess you, no voices can blame you for sun on your wings," while for others of us they are flying rats. When you live in isolation with these birds, they get to know you and your own habits and patterns while you witness theirs. Every morning when I am up and stirring about, they fly reconaissance past the wall of glass, coming in slow and low to see what's for breakfast. Usually it's oatmeal, half a bagel, or yogurt, which is of little interest to them. I've discovered seagulls have their likes and dislikes, yet you wouldn't think it possible the way they eat. Unlike the communal crow who will call others of his troop when food is located, even holding off eating until the others have joined him, the seagull is all about swoop, grab and gulp. I've seen them eat all manner of things: a carcass from roasted chicken, leftover pizza and popcorn. Their true desire, however, are for those rare mornings when I make French toast or waffles with honey. This is Poseidon passion food. I've seen them go into a frenzy over sweetened, eggy bread. I've wanted to say at times, "I am not making crepes for you winged beggars."
The Cape Cod Canal cuts in from the sea, effectively breaking off what was called a peninsula and now forms a truer island. Along the length of the canal from it's entrance to the Sagamore Bridge, which is the chief means of crossing onto the Cape from land, there is a paved walkway which is taken over by walkers, bicyclists, rollerbladders, and birds. The sea birds have learned to use the sidewalk as a tool. You can see them diving into the water for their meal, then they will fly inland, hover over the pavement and drop their catch. They have learned through practice and time that the hardness of the surface will shatter open the quahog shell and save them the labor of prying with their beaks. Authorities having to deal with this shellfish detritus have tried everything to unlearn the birds, even an attempt to try alarm them by painting the shape of a man with arms upraised in white outlines on the black tarmac. The birds are not dissuaded, and they continue to drop and feed.
One time, in a pique of whimsy, I bought a box of Dunkin' Donuts on the last day and threw out donuts for them. One bird was so pleased with his booty, he strutted around with the donut in his mouth in front of fellow gulls, turning his head to the left, then right, to show off his treasure. Once I am gone, they know it's a long winter of sand crabs and clams to come.
I'm not without my own quirks. One autumn when I was on a stretch of sandy beach, watching an old man methodically move along with his mine sweeping metal detector, it came to me to start burying coins under the sand. We all seek potential treasure whether in Powerball or pennies. I realized it would give him such pleasure to hear his sweeper beeping while he took his walk and that it was more about the moment when the meter starts to click and the anticipation of what might be there. Beachcombing is much more than discovering what the sea has washed up. It is returning to a childlike fascination with the found object.
A few years ago, I decided it would be fun to toss marbles back into the sea while I take my strolls. I went to a local market and found a tray that displayed 500 or 1,000 marbles of varied sizes and styles: cat's eyes, ghosts, agies, shooters and alleys. The largest marble in the collection, sometimes called the moon marble, is black irridescence, and I always held onto that one for last. As Tibetans tie their hopes and prayers to pieces of paper that flutter in the wind, I would wish, hope and pray with each lobbed bit of glass into the water. I had a fantasy that it would be nice if the marble could work it's way back to shore, with the movement of the tide and some nice hot summer day a child walking on the beach, bent over in search of treasure, could find one washed back up amidst the rocks and shells of the shoreline.
This is not French toast...and it's cold...and where's the honey?